Nearly 20 years after Iran introduced contraception measures to curb the country’s then-rapid population growth, the Islamic Republic’s parliament moved this week to discuss a ban on vasectomies and limitations on abortions in an attempt to raise a dwindling birth rate, The Guardian reported Tuesday.
The bill also aims to penalize those who encourage the use of contraceptives and abortions.
A majority of MPs voted to consider the bill, which would reevaluate the policies — including free distribution of condoms and subsidized male sterilization procedures — implemented after a significant jump in population from 35 million to 60 million between 1979 and 1996.
The birth control initiative in 1996 was approved by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is also behind the present anti-contraceptives measures. Fearing population decline, he now says Iran should have a population of 150 million people or more.
“If we move forward like this, we will be a country of elderly people in the not-too-distant future. Why do some couples prefer to have one or two children? Why do couples avoid having children? The reasons need to be studied,” the ayatollah said in January. “There was an imitation of Western life and we inherited this.”
While anti-birth control legislation has yet to be enforced in the Islamic Republic, Mahdi Sedqazar, who performed vasectomies at his government-sponsored Martyr Jafari clinic in central Tehran for a decade, said that all operations have been frozen and budgets slashed since May 2013.
“Vasectomy operations have totally stopped. They were eliminated eight months ago,” Sedqazar said in January. “The budget on population curbs has been halted.”
But experts say it is difficult to encourage Iranians to have more children in a mismanaged economy hit by Western sanctions and 36 percent inflation.
“A gold coin won’t change couples’ calculations,” said Mohammad Jalal Abbasi, head of the demographics department at Tehran University. “Many young Iranians prefer to continue their studies, not marry. The lack of financial ability to buy a house and meet expenses are among other reasons why the youth postpone marriage or have no interest in raising many children.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.